This maestro played the finest symphony in motion the hallowed precincts had been privileged to watch
The moment the angel of life blew into the tiny embryonic Hanif he started pulsating with life. The cricketing world waited till he was high enough to hold the bat. From then on this genius began to write a new script in cricketing annals scaling new heights and setting new standards.
His passing away was a sad day indeed for the cricketing world.
It would need a book to cover all the tributes he gathered but two head the list and need highlighting. Richie Benaud wrote in one of his books that Hanif Muhammad had the best stance he had seen.
In 1964 Hanif had just recovered from operations on both his knees and was leading the Pakistan team to Australia. Sir Bradman remarked to Qamar Ahmed the journalist that Hanif was the best opening batsman he had seen and that he had quick footwork. In all fairness to Hanif’s talent it did not need any certification.
The gifted Hanif with immense talent and implanted in his little frame a great mind, which was penetrating, perceptive and clinically analytic.
He then granted an intuition which placed him in another stratosphere. Coupled with his other qualities this uncanny intuition enabled him penetrate the bowler’s mind.
Everything about this Genius was remarkable as was his signature twirl of the bat. At the start of the bowler’s run up his twirl would start -- whatever the speed, always middling, never miscuing, artistry at its unbelievable best; never witnessed before.
Endowed with all these gifts in 1949/50 at 16 his precocious genius was ready for the highest challenge.
In the Sind Pentangular in a match between Karachi Muslims and a Northern Muslims X1 played at Karachi Gymkhana on a matting wicket he faced the already famous Fazal Mahmood, the King of matting, who "could cut the ball viciously both ways". He scored a chanceless 158.
In the Oval Test in 1954 Fazal had Sir Len Hutton out cheaply in both innings. In 1962 during the Lord’s Test Fazal was invited to dinner by Sir Len Hutton to find out how he had got him out because he had not been able to pick the direction of the ball. Fazal explained he used his wrist and fingers to change the direction of the ball.
I was not fortunate enough to watch Hanif’s earlier innings or his 337 against the West Indians but I can imagine what he must have been at that stage of his career. The people who watched him must have been very privileged.
On Pakistan’s England tour in 1967 Hanif was the Captain. For some time he had not been performing to his potential and so was unhappy.
At the Lord’s Test, the players in the dressing room were getting ready for batting. Hanif had just started padding up when Mushtaq (his younger brother) shouted from across the room: "Come on Great where is that hundred!"
Hanif gave him a blank look. Without a word and as if in a trance, he padded up, collected his gloves, bat, walked down the stairs, passed the long room, through the players gate, stepped on to the sacred turf and took guard to John Snow.
This maestro played the finest symphony in motion the hallowed precincts had been privileged to watch. The only force on the ground was of the bowler. The ball glided off the blade as soft as cats breath, caressing the grass on its way to the fence. His deflections from wide gully to fine third man were delightfully delectable. But off his hips and toes he was supremely sublime playing all angles from square to fine leg.
In reverential silence, the pavilion, the long room, the balconies watched: the bowlers and fielders mechanically fiddling to the tune of the Master; the spellbound spectator’s applause softly rippling across the ground; the blades of grass marvelled; the sky deferentially spread a brilliant blue canopy in sheer joy.
"In this long innings the ball never left the ground," said an English commentator.
Aesthetically this diminutive divinity offered the pure pristine prismatic classiest performance that revered temple had ever been offered.